In the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), by George Orwell, Newspeak is the fictional language of Oceania, a totalitarian superstate. To meet the ideological requirements of Ingsoc (English Socialism) in Oceania, the Party created Newspeak, which is a controlled language of simplified grammar and limited vocabulary designed to limit a person's ability for critical thinking. The Newspeak language thus limits the person's ability to articulate and communicate abstract concepts, such as personal identity, self-expression, and free will,[1][2] which are thoughtcrimes, acts of personal independence that contradict the ideological orthodoxy of Ingsoc collectivism.[3][4]

In the appendix to the novel, "The Principles of Newspeak", Orwell explains that Newspeak follows most rules of English grammar, yet is a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts are reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning. The political contractions of Newspeak — Ingsoc (English Socialism), Minitrue (Ministry of Truth), Miniplenty (Ministry of Plenty) — are similar to German and Russian contractions in the 20th century, such as Nazi (Nationalsozialist), Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), politburo (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), Comintern (Communist International), kolkhoz (collective farm), and Komsomol (communist youth union). Newspeak contractions usually are syllabic abbreviations meant to conceal the speaker's ideology from the speaker and the listener.[1]: 310–8 

Development of Newspeak

As a constructed language, Newspeak is a language of planned phonology, limited grammar, and finite vocabulary, much like the phonology, grammar, and vocabulary of Basic English (British American Scientific International Commercial English), which was proposed by the British linguist Charles Kay Ogden in 1930. As a controlled language without complex constructions and ambiguous usages, Basic English was designed to be easy to learn, to sound, and to speak, with a vocabulary of 850 words composed specifically to facilitate the communication of facts, not the communication of abstract thought. Moreover, whilst employed as a propagandist by BBC during the Second World War (1939–1945), Orwell saw the intellectual and communicative disadvantages of Basic English, because, as a controlled language, its constructions impose functional limitations upon the speech, the writing, and the thinking of the users.[5]

In the essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946)[6] and in "The Principles of Newspeak" appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Orwell discusses the communication function of English and contemporary ideological changes in usage during the 1940s. In the novel, the linguistic decadence of English is the central theme about language-as-communication.[7]: 171  In the essay, that Standard English was characterised by dying metaphors, pretentious diction, and high-flown rhetoric, which he satirised with the term doublespeak, the opaque language that arises from cognitive dissonance, and Orwell concludes that as: "I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this [decadence] may argue that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development, by any direct tinkering with words or constructions."[6]

That the decline of English went hand-in-hand with the decline of intellectualism among society, and thus facilitated the manipulation of listeners and speakers and writers into consequent political chaos.[7] The story of Nineteen Eighty-Four explains the connection between authoritarian régimes and doublespeak language, earlier discussed in "Politics and the English Language":

When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess, which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship. But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.[6]

In contemporary political usage, the term Newspeak is used to impugn an opponent who introduces new definitions of words to suit his, her, or their political agenda.[8][9]

Principles

To eliminate the expression of ambiguity and nuance from Oldspeak (Standard English) in order to reduce the English language's communication functions, Newspeak uses simplistic constructions of language, such as the dichotomies of pleasure vs. pain and happiness vs. sadness. Such dichotomies produced the linguistic and political concepts of goodthink and crimethink that reinforce the totalitarianism of The Party over the people of Oceania. The long-term goal of The Party is that, by A.D. 2050, Newspeak would be the universal language of every member of The Party and of Oceanian society, except for the Proles, the working-class of Oceania.[1]: 309 

In Newspeak, English root-words function both as nouns and as verbs, which reduces the vocabulary available for the speaker to communicate meaning; e.g. as a noun and as a verb, the word think eliminates the word thought to functionally communicate thoughts, which are the products of intellectualism. As a form of personal communication, Newspeak is spoken in staccato rhythm, using short words that are easy to pronounce, so that speech is physically automatic and intellectually unconscious, by which mental habits the user of Newspeak avoids critical thinking. English words of comparative and superlative meanings and irregular spellings were simplified; thus, better becomes gooder and best becomes goodest. The Newspeak prefixes plus– and doubleplus– are used for emphasis, e.g. pluscold means "very cold" and doublepluscold means "very very cold". Newspeak forms adjectives by appending the suffix –ful to a root-word, e.g. goodthinkful means "Orthodox in thought"; whilst adverbs are formed by adding the suffix –wise, e.g. goodthinkwise means "In an orthodox manner".

Thought control

The intellectual purpose of Newspeak is to make all anti-Ingsoc thoughts "literally unthinkable" as speech. As constructed, Newspeak vocabulary communicates the exact expression of sense and meaning that a member of the Party could wish to express, while excluding secondary denotations and connotations, eliminating the ways of lateral thinking (indirect thinking), which allow a word to have additional meanings. The linguistic simplification of Oldspeak into Newspeak was realised with neologisms, the elimination of ideologically undesirable words, and the elimination of the politically unorthodox meanings of words.[1]: 310 

The word free still existed in Newspeak, but only to communicate the absence of something, e.g. "The dog is free from lice" or "This field is free of weeds". The word could not denote free will, because intellectual freedom was no longer supposed to exist in Oceania. The limitations of Newspeak's vocabulary enabled the Party to effectively control the population's minds, by allowing the user only a very narrow range of spoken and written thought; hence, words such as: crimethink (thought crime), doublethink (accepting contradictory beliefs), and Ingsoc communicated only their surface meanings.[1]: 309–10 

In the story of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the lexicologist character Syme discusses his editorial work on the latest edition of the Newspeak Dictionary:

By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of The Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like Freedom is Slavery when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.[1]

Vocabulary

Newspeak words are classified by three distinct classes: the A, B, and C vocabularies.

The words of the A vocabulary describe the functional concepts of daily life (e.g. eating and drinking, working and cooking). It consists mostly of English words, but they are very small in number compared to English, and each word's meanings are "far more rigidly defined" than in English.

The words of the B vocabulary are deliberately constructed for political purposes to convey complex ideas in a simple form. They are compound words and noun-verbs with political significance that are meant to impose and instill in Oceania's citizens the correct mental attitudes required by the Party. In the appendix, Orwell explains that the very structure of the B vocabulary (the fact that they are compound words) carries ideological weight.[1]: 310  The large number of contractions in the B vocabulary—for example, the Ministry of Truth being called Minitrue, the Records Department being called Recdep, the Fiction Department being called Ficdep, the Teleprogrammes Department being called Teledep—is not done simply to save time. As with examples of compound words in the political language of the 20th century—Nazi, Gestapo, Politburo, Comintern, Inprecor, Agitprop, and many others—Orwell remarks that the Party believed that abbreviating a name could "narrowly and subtly" alter a word's meaning. Newspeak is supposed to make this effort a conscious purpose:

[...]Comintern is a word that can be uttered almost without taking thought, whereas Communist International is a phrase over which one is obliged to linger at least momentarily. In the same way, the associations called up by a word like Minitrue are fewer and more controllable than those called up by Ministry of Truth. This accounted not only for the habit of abbreviating whenever possible, but also for the almost exaggerated care that was taken to make every word easily pronounceable. [1]: 318 

The B words in Newspeak are supposed to sound pleasant, while also being easily pronounceable, in an attempt to make speech on anything political "staccato and monotonous" and, ultimately, mask from the speaker all ideological content.

The words of the C vocabulary are scientific and technical terms that supplement the linguistic functions of the A and B vocabularies. These words are the same scientific terms in English, but many of them have had their meanings rigidified to attempt, as with the A vocabulary, to prevent speakers from being able to express anti-government thoughts. Distribution of the C vocabulary is limited, because the Party does not want citizens to know more than a select few ways of life or techniques of production. Hence, the Oldspeak word science has no equivalent term in Newspeak; instead, these words are simply treated as specific technical words for speaking of technical fields.[1]: 309–323 

Grammar

See also: Germanic strong verb

Newspeak's grammar is greatly simplifed compared to English. It also has two "outstanding" characteristics: almost completely interchangeable linguistic functions between the parts of speech (any word can function as a verb, noun, adjective, or adverb), and heavy inflectional regularity in the construction of usages and of words.[1]: 311  Inflectional regularity means that most irregular words are replaced with regular words combined with prefixes and suffixes. For example, the preterite and the past participle constructions of verbs are alike, with both ending in –ed. Hence, the Newspeak preterite of the English word steal is stealed, and that of the word think is thinked. Likewise, the past participles of swim, give, bring, speak, and take were, respectively swimmed, gived, bringed, speaked, and taked, with all irregular forms (such as swam, gave, and brought) being eliminated. The auxiliaries (including to be), pronouns, demonstratives, and relatives still inflect irregularly. They mostly follow their use in English, but the word whom and the shall and should tenses are dropped, whom being replaced by who and shall and should by will and would.

Prefixes

Suffixes

In spoken and written Newspeak, suffixes are also used in the elimination of irregular conjugations:

Therefore, the Oldspeak sentence "He ran extremely quickly" would become "He runned doubleplusspeedwise".

Newspeak vocabulary

"Sexcrime (1984)" and "Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)" redirect here. For the Eurythmics song of the same name, see Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four) (song).

This is a list of Newspeak words known from the novel. It does not include words carried over directly from English with no change in meaning, nor does it include regular uses of the listed affixes (e.g. unbellyfeel) unless they are particularly significant.

The novel says that the Ministry of Truth uses a jargon "not actually Newspeak, but consisting largely of Newspeak words" for its internal memos. As many of the words in this list (e.g. "bb", "upsub") come from such memos, it is not certain whether those words are actually Newspeak.

See also

Fiction:

Notes

  1. ^ The appendix "The Principles of Newspeak" indicates that Big Brother is another, if not the only acceptable name for the figurehead in Newspeak.[1]: 320 

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Secker and Warburg. ISBN 978-0-452-28423-4.: 309 
  2. ^ "Newspeak". Merriam Webster. 2020.
  3. ^ The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Tom McArthur, Ed. (1992) p. 693.
  4. ^ "Moellerlit Newspeak dictionary" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  5. ^ Fink, Howard (1971). "Newspeak: the Epitome of Parody Techniques in "Nineteen Eighty-Four"". Critical Survey. 5 (2): 155–163.
  6. ^ a b c Orwell, George (17 June 1946). "Politics and the English Language". New Republic. Vol. 114, no. 24. pp. 872–874.
  7. ^ a b Köberl, Johann (1979). "Der Sprachphilosophische Hintergrund von Newspeak: Ein Beitrag zum 100.Geburtstag von Albert Einstein". AAA: Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik. 4 (2): 171–183.
  8. ^ Foster, Peter (5 January 2021). "Peter Foster: Sustainable Newspeak by 2050". Financial Post. Retrieved 23 May 2022.
  9. ^ Weintraub, Richard. "Trump's use of 'Newspeak' to explain away virus puts Americans at risk | For What It's Worth". Pocono Record. Retrieved 23 May 2021.

Further reading